Every Batman movie from the last six decades has offered fans a different variation of the world’s most famous comic book superhero. Adam West’s Batman: The Movie was the height of comic book campiness in 1966, while Michael Keaton’s turn in Tim Burton’s Batman took the character closer to his roots. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and The Batman made things even darker for the iconic hero. That’s why Luke Wilson’s new animated film, Merry Little Batman, is such a sharp detour because it not only presents a lighter take on the Dark Knight but also focuses on Bruce Wayne as a father to his son, Damian Wayne.
In the comics, Damian is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, who became Batman’s new Robin after being trained from birth as an assassin. Amazon Prime Video’s Merry Little Batman completely does away with that background by portraying Damian’s youth and admiration for his father, whom he happily lives with in their family’s ancestral home, Wayne Manor. The only problem Bruce has with his son is that Damian is a little too eager to join Batman’s crusade against evil.
Recently, The Manual had a chance to talk with Luke Wilson about his role in Merry Little Batman, and he shared his insights into the role as well as his background in comics and whether he’s up for another trip to the Batcave in the future.
According to Wilson, the version of the character that he grew up with was the 1966 Batman live-action TV series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his sidekick, Robin.
“In the ’70s, they’d show the Adam West live-action half-hour show in reruns in the summer,” recalled Wilson. “That was really fun to watch; we just loved that. We loved Batman and Robin, Catwoman… Burgess Meredith was the Penguin. It’s known as being campy, but it was almost pop art to me. I loved that and was really into it. That was maybe my favorite growing up.”
However, Wilson didn’t necessarily gravitate toward Batman comics. Instead, he had a more eclectic taste in reading material.
“Going into record stores when I was growing up, some stores would have boxes of comics. I would always flip through them and buy different ones like those Luke Cage comic books, where Nicolas Cage got his last name. Then, the old ones that were Westerns, Sgt. Rock and stuff like that always appealed to me…I was a loyal Mad Magazine reader.”
“I am definitely interested in [comics], [and I] love the artwork,” added Wilson. “Just the fact that there are people who specialize in the letterwork is something I always thought was cool.”
Wilson’s first brush with playing a DC Comics character came in the live-action Stargirl series that ran for three seasons on The CW. Wilson portrayed Pat Dugan, the stepfather of Stargirl (Brec Bassinger), who fought evil alongside her as STRIPE while wearing a suit of armor. Now, Wilson is playing Batman as a devoted father and a helicopter dad. While Wilson isn’t a comic book expert himself, he noted that he can still turn to his Stargirl showrunner, Geoff Johns, for any questions that he has.
“I’ve gotten to be friends with Geoff Johns, who worked at DC Comics over the years, and then I worked for him [on Stargirl],” recalled Wilson. “It really is fun for me to talk to Geoff as a complete expert. The way people would know about World War II is that you can ask Geoff any question about not just the DC Universe but comics in general. He’s kind of like a Ph.D. scholar about them.”
Wilson told us that he wasn’t sure how the producers selected him to portray Bruce Wayne in Merry Little Batman, but he enjoyed the film’s lighter touch.
“We weren’t doing the dark dystopian take on Batman like Christian Bale or Robert Pattinson, so I wanted to make it fun for kids to watch,” related Wilson. “I liked what the writers had done, and Mike Roth, the director, did such a good job of ‘here’s this guy who’s a crime fighter who can take on anything and protect Gotham City and the world. But he’s also your average bumbling father who is just trying to do a good job.’ That was something to have fun with.”
“I don’t remember us making a conscious decision not to do a dark, deep [Batman] voice,” added Wilson. “But I was just to do something a little more fun, funny, and energetic and aimed at something that kids would like and hopefully parents would get a kick out of.”
Merry Little Batman completely changes the dynamic between Bruce and his son, Damian, by making Batman’s son considerably younger than his comic book counterpart. Damian is also more eager to take his place alongside his famous father as Batman’s new partner. During our interview, Wilson shared his take on the film’s relationship between Bruce and Damian.
“Bruce is Batman, so he’s fighting crime, and he’s got his hands full not only with things going on outside of Wayne [Manor], but he’s also trying to take care of Damian at the same time,” noted Wilson. “When [Bruce] knows that he’s going to have to leave Damian alone on Christmas, he tries to make sure that he has that bracelet on for safety so he can monitor everything that Damian is doing. His mindset was just to fight crime and take on the villains, which he feels totally comfortable with doing.”
“With Damian, [Bruce is] just doing his best to be a good dad when he has this kind of good-natured but willful and rambunctious little boy,” continued Wilson. “They love each other, and it’s a friendship, but it is father and son, and he just wants him to be safe. But Damian loves his dad and really admires him. He thinks that it’s cool, so he’s trying to emulate his father while, at the same time, his father just wants to keep him safe.”
Unfortunately, Wilson was not able to record his lines alongside Yonas Kibreab (the voice of Damian) or James Cromwell (the voice of the Wayne family’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth). However, Wilson expressed his admiration for both of his co-stars.
“Yonas did such a great job, and I really enjoy hearing it,” said Wilson. “James Cromwell, I’m a fan of his live-action [work]. Unfortunately, the way these things go, sometimes people are right there in the studio doing things together. Other times you’re just in a little dark room alone, doing your best. That’s what I was doing.”
“I haven’t seen it in a while. And always when you’re working on it, you’re doing take after take, trying to get it right. And trying to get different versions. I think maybe one of my favorite things is the safety bracelet [recording] where [Bruce] calls Damian’ my precious little baby.’ That made me laugh.”
It wasn’t difficult for Wilson to choose his favorite adversary for Batman. One name quickly sprang to his mind.
“The Joker is such a classic,” explained Wilson. “I always think of the Jack Nicholson version, which is the one I remember from the Tim Burton [film]. But the Joker in Merry Little Batman is really cool and kind of funny too.”
Prime Video is currently developing a Merry Little Batman spinoff series, tentatively titled Bat-family. However, Wilson indicated that he was not aware of that project when asked about it.
“I have not heard of that, but I will hopefully be doing more Merry Little Batmans,” shared Wilson. “Or just Little Batmans. I am not sure. I hadn’t heard of [Bat-family].”
For Wilson, the future of Bruce and Damian seems more clear.
“I just kind of figured that they’d team up on their own together, and hopefully [Damian’s mother] keeps Wayne Manor safe while they go off and fight crime together. But I definitely see that as something that’s eventually going to happen: Bruce and Damian fighting crime together.”
Merry Little Batman is now streaming on Prime Video.